7.32 Daniel -- the Plan of World History
Daniel does not offer, like so many Biblical prophets, "oracles against the nations." Instead, he shows an entire world system that is ruled by human pride rather than by God. He foretells four great world-empires, presumably representing many more. They share an essential unity (like the one statue in chapter 2). They all stand in contrast to the kingdom God will establish, even though only certain kings ("horns") set themselves up in direct rebellion against Him. The Lord’s people are less a separate community than a scattered set of faithful individuals. The future course of history will be violent. but the Lord will finally establish His own kingdom on earth: a living, growing kingdom (chapter 2) ruled by His saints, presided over by "one like a son of man" (chapter 7). In the meantime, His servants -- the people who know God -- must live under pagan empires and kings. This will entail persecution, oppression, and suffering, even death, but, more clearly than most Biblical books, Daniel affirms that God achieves good purposes through these individuals. Just like Daniel and the three men thrown into the fire, God's people will be tested, but if they are faithful to God, they will experience His deliverance.
Daniel reveals the new status of the Jews as no longer masters of their own fate. The observance of their faith is subject to the whim of foreign despots. Nebuchadnezzar tossed Daniel's three protegees into the fiery furnace, Darius (Cyrus?) threw Daniel into the lions' den -- in both cases, because the men maintained their fidelity to the God of Israel. The problem of Judaism in subjection to Gentiles is also explored in the Book of Esther -- with identical themes of testing, obedience and deliverance. Sadly, servitude was to be the fate of Israel for the next 2500 years, as the Jews were subject to successive empires and to dispersion among the nations. As they tried to maintain some sense of cultural and religious distinction from their rulers, they were constantly threatened by both assimilation and persecution.